This fall, entomophagy took a giant step forward when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched its edible insects Web site (tinyurl.com/eatingbugs), formalizing developments that had been in the works for several years. The FAO's Edible Forest Insects program aims to eventually provide a global framework bug food safety; right now it is a clearinghouse for research and information about a pilot program in Laos, where locals are feeding themselves and the local economy with backyard bug farms.
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Mealworm Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 tub of mealworms
Chocolate-chip cookie dough
1. Buy some mealworms. You will probably have to get them from a pet store, where they are sold as food for reptiles.
2. Pick through a little tub of sawdusty bran to get each individual mealworm. Shiver a little bit every time you pick one up and it squirms up into your fingers.
3. Deal with it; curse your job; rinse mealworms and freeze for one hour.
4. Spread them out on a sheet of aluminum foil and roast in the toaster oven at about 200 degrees.
5. Remove from foil, "grind" roasted mealworms with the back of a spoon.
6. Stir into chocolate-chip cookie dough and bake.
7. Eat cookies and barely taste a hint of nutty mealworm. Say things like, "I want to get my protein from cookies."
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The big question is, outside of cultures where bugs are already dinner — and there are many of them, especially in the tropics — how do you get people to start chowing down on insects? Americans still think of insects as something to squish and exterminate. Aside from Hotlix lollipops, one-time novelty meals hosted by entomological societies and museums, and a restaurant in Santa Monica known for its insect dishes, the Western world has yet to experience its bug breakthrough.
"There's this thing called the 'yuck factor,' " says Marc Dennis, founder of the New York–based insectsarefood.com. "This is a cultural thing . . . and in due time, most people are capable of embracing new ideas."
Dennis is an amateur entomophagist and as such, spreads the bug gospel where and when he can. He's planning to launch a free iTunes application called Marc's Bug Recipes, and his Web site provides links and recipes like the mealworm-cookie one above (minus the editorial squealing, of course).
Gracer, who teaches writing at Community College of Rhode Island, is another amateur bug-eating proselytizer; his focus is on supply and demand. Specifically, supplying adventurous eaters who demand bugs but find them difficult to procure in the United States. Sometimes he prepares them, too — he's even cooked bugs for Stephen Colbert.
Right now, Gracer's freezer contains katydids from Uganda, scorpions from China, giant queen ants from Texas, and wild-harvested cicadas; his personal favorites include the waxworm caterpillar, the Mexican grasshopper, and the stinkbug, which he describes as "bitter and herby . . . a cross between kale and cilantro."
While Gracer is sometimes able to find some bugs at local Asian markets in Providence, he ships most exotic bugs from overseas. Which brings us to the quandary of harvesting insects. As demand increases, both in America and worldwide, entomophagists will need better bug-harvesting and -farming infrastructure.